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Delhi is a special city for me since I was living there for a longer period of time and was involved in the different aspects of the big city life. After the first year, I have started feeling myself a Delhiite (cough, *too bold claim*, cough), partially, due to the fact, that my friends treated me as a local.
I knew trendy tourist places and offbeat gems, the best pokora walla, the cheapest places to buy certain stuff, great areas to rent an apartment and the best way to reach a certain place.
Whenever someone from another city or country visited my Indian friends or colleagues, they used to take my advice about the city, because, apparently, I was the most “local” person in the room.
I’ve spent enough time in Delhi to get over the excitement of shifting to a new place, go through the routine and challenges of this city and find the way to accept and like it the way it is. By now, you might have a general picture of my relationship with Delhi.
As many other capitals of the world, Delhi is a city of contrasts. Here you will meet rich people blatantly throwing the money on status, you will meet poor and broke who have spent their last rupees for the ticket to Delhi with the hope to build a better life. It is the city of opportunities with a place for everyone.
A decent number of travelers who have spent a few days in Delhi is often on a mission to encourage other travelers to skip it. So what do some visitors do that make them dislike this city? I’ve read quite a few hate posts and comments on the web about Delhi and found several patterns there.
Since I feel somehow emotionally attached to this city, I really want to bring this topic to you and show you a more comprehensive picture of the capital. This blog post will be about the travel habits that most probably will make you hate Delhi.
Staying in the bustling neighborhoods of Delhi
Did you find a room for 250 INR (~4 USD)/night in Paharganj? A meal for 30 INR (0.5 USD)? Happy about the low prices? Most of the people immigrating to Delhi from the other states are happy about this too!
Old Delhi is a great place to experience authenticity, architecture, a mix of cultures, but it is quite hectic to stay there. It’s not for everyone.
Old Delhi is a very noisy and densely populated area, because of the several reasons. There is one of the biggest railway stations in Delhi (NDLS) there, a station terminus for the airport express line, one of the biggest and the oldest local markets (Chandni Chowk), several popular tourist attractions (Red Fort, Jama Masjid, Chandni Chowk and Old Delhi quarters), cheap prices. A combination of all these factors made this area one of the most overcrowded areas of Delhi.
Same works for CP (Connaught Place) and Karol Bagh. These are interesting and happening areas, but some visitors might find it challenging to live there. These neighborhoods do attract a big number of budget tourists daily due to the cheap prices.
Delhi as any other big capital city is expensive. It is possible to budget your experience here under 10 USD/day (~650 INR/day), but you will get what you pay for.
If you don’t like big crowds, jams, smell combos and noise, you gotta choose the neighborhood accordingly, otherwise, you will be counting days or hours to leave.
Solution: You can find a room or a homestay in one of the green and calm areas of South Delhi starting with 15 USD (~1000 INR). Did you know that Delhi is a green city with over 20% of forest cover? If you stay in a close proximity to the park, most probably, you will see people jogging and exercising there in the early mornings.
If you are a budget traveler, there are nice hostel options in South Delhi that, as a rule, choose great locations.
Eating random food here and there
Delhi is a food haven with so many cuisines for any taste. It took me two months to cross check only the North Indian menu, but there are many other dishes you can try. Nevertheless, you might have heard the term of “Delhi-belly”.
Though you will find odd eating places all over India, there is no saying of “Jaipur-belly” or “Goa-belly” or any other trendy tourist destination. The food poisoning is quite common if you don’t know what you are eating.
Solution: Drink only bottled water of reputed brands like Bisleri, Aquafina, etc. Try to avoid ice cubes and fresh salads by any means. If you are a foreigner, I don’t recommend eating street food right away. You can’t compete in digestive power with Indians, so give your stomach some time (at least 1 week, better 2) to adjust. After this, IF you find a reliable street food place, go ahead – it has so many great varieties and tastes.
When choosing a regular place to eat, check out Zomato. This is a free app, where you can see the ranking of any reputable café/restaurant in the city. Take it easy, ask firstly non-chili & less spicy dishes (very challenging, but possible). If you manage food correctly, your experience will be undoubtedly so much better!
Paying the first price
India is a land of storytellers and merchants. Remember, this country has always been an important player in the international trade for centuries. If you abstract yourself from the fancy branding around entrepreneurship in the West, you will notice the raw entrepreneurial skills almost in every person in India.
Many Indians migrate to big cities looking for reaching bigger markets and opportunities and some of them would take every single chance to earn money. If it’s quite obvious you are new to Delhi, some people will capitalize on your lack of knowledge of local reality.
Overall, the problem is not in overcharging as such, but in the fact, that you always need to stay alert. There is also a “white disadvantage” when some local sellers treat white face as a criterion of wealth. Nevertheless, it’s not only in Delhi, take your time to explore other cities in South and South-East Asia for similar experiences.
While some Westerners wouldn’t bother about ~5 USD difference, for many people from developing countries it’s a significant amount of money. Everyone has a different background and budget. Take your call, but be sure, unless there is an official price list hanging somewhere, everything is subjected to bargaining and it’s one of the skills you can learn while shopping in India.
The real SCAM with bigger sums of money happens when you buy a product/service through a third party. E.g. a driver told you the hotel is not working and suggested an alternative, a tour representative is selling tours on the streets.
Let’s make it straight: would you book accommodation through the driver in your country? Or would you pay cash for a tour from an unknown person on the street? If your answer is no, why would you do it in Delhi?
Solution: India is a digital country that has numerous online apps & services. Both government and corporate sectors put a lot of effort to decrease the queues in real life which are inevitable in the country with a 1bn+ population.
You will find an online solution for most of your needs. If you stumbled upon an agent or a company on the street and their offer seems too good to be true, check out their profile online.
Indians are VERY socially active online. Due to the competitiveness of the market, there is a totally different approach to the relationship with clients. Should a company do something wrong, Twitter and Facebook will take care to keep their failure track forever.
Underestimating the distances and traffic in Delhi
Delhi is an economic, politic and cultural center of India and it is packed with numerous heritage sites. Most probably, you will try to plan out all the time for the sightseeing, because everything seems to be relatively close?
Yes, but NO. Chandni Chowk is just 3 km away from Connaught Place, but you will be lucky to get there in half an hour.
Walking is rarely a good option. Indian cities are mostly created for transport, not for people with a few exceptions (give a huge round of applause to Chandigarh). By this, I mean, there is quite less space for pedestrians and this area constantly gets “violated” by rickshaws.
In order to comfortably walk – you need to reach a walking space – e.g. numerous amazing parks and green areas of Delhi. Nevertheless, local people generally don’t walk from one station to another, because there are so many other options.
So, how to commute in Delhi?
Tuk-tuk might be one of the top 10 things you planned to experience in India, but don’t make it your regular transportation, moreover in Delhi. There is a high level of noise pollution in the big cities and Delhi is not an exception.
Delhi has a great metro system that covers most of the points you might need to reach. Metro will pop-up in one of the conversations with locals. Just remember DMRC app as of now :).
Metro is a great way to commute outside the rush hours (07.30 – 09.30; 17.00 – 20.30). Taking an auto rickshaw or any other land transport within rush hours is not a good idea unless you want to check the capacity of the certain vehicle.
While planning your program, reserve a bigger part of your day to explore the Old Delhi area and immerse in the rich history and diverse culture of the city. In the evening cross the trendy CP area and head to India Gate and Presidential Palace. These areas are especially beautiful in the evenings and early mornings.
Allocate one day to explore South Delhi with its gorgeous temples, parks and heritage sites. I can’t place Akshardham in any of the above-mentioned areas, but I strongly recommend not to miss it. It’s in the East Delhi.
The timing depends on your overall plan. E.g. There are several forts in Delhi, the most famous and touristic is Red Fort. Nevertheless, if you are planning to visit Agra, I recommend Agra Fort over Red Fort.
Same for Jantar Mantar – that’s a great place to learn about measure instruments of the past and I recommend visiting it. Nevertheless, there are 5 Jantar Mantars in India and you might have already been to one of them. Keep your plan flexible.
If you are on a budget, there are so many great places you can visit in Delhi for free. Reserve at least 3 days to explore the capital as it is jam-packed with history and knowledge. This way you will have more comprehensive impression about the city.
Making fast impressions about Delhi
Whether you have already formed an impression about Delhi from reading the news or you have developed an opinion after a few encounters with the people on the streets, be open to change your mind.
It is hard to generalize on people’s attitude and behavior here. Delhi like New York, London, Berlin, Paris, Moscow and pretty much any other big capital is a city of immigrants. That’s one of the most attractive and challenging points. Embrace the diversity and try to learn something from each encounter with a new person. Be sure, they all have a story.
I recommend being critical about everything you read in media. Delhi is a very happening city from different points of view. Nevertheless, negative and provocative news reach big media outlets more often.
Statistically speaking, there are over 27 million people living in Delhi (take a moment to comprehend this number). That’s the second most populous city in the world after Tokyo. The local authorities and the companies constantly come up with new ideas to improve safety and overall experience in the city. Out of all the places I’ve visited so far, I think, only Minsk can compete with Delhi by the number of the security people outside.
I can’t say that I felt less or more secure in Delhi than in London, Berlin or Moscow. All these cities are huge and they have both safe and shady neighborhoods, posh and poor areas, local people and immigrants.
Delhi is far from being ideal. There is still a need of an immense and continuous work in different areas like ecology, women empowerment, working culture and many others. These problems go far beyond Delhi and include a significant area in South Asia and the whole world on the bigger scale.
I’m trying to abstract from completely positive or negative reviews as I’m getting suspicious in both cases. I just wish you visit this city with an open mind and give it a chance to create an impression before the patterned stereotypes flood your mind.
What about you? What is your impression on Delhi and what advice would you give for the first-time visitors?